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J Integr Plant Biol. 2011 Dec;53(12):971-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-7909.2011.01086.x.

Mechanisms of optimal defense patterns in Nicotiana attenuata: flowering attenuates herbivory-elicited ethylene and jasmonate signaling.

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Department of Molecular Ecology, Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena 07745, Germany.


To defend themselves against herbivore attack, plants produce secondary metabolites, which are variously inducible and constitutively deployed, presumably to optimize their fitness benefits in light of their fitness costs. Three phytohormones, jasmonates (JA) and their active forms, the JA-isoleucine (JA-Ile) and ethylene (ET), are known to play central roles in the elicitation of induced defenses, but little is known about how this mediation changes over ontogeny. The Optimal Defense Theory (ODT) predicts changes in the costs and benefits of the different types of defenses and has been usefully extrapolated to their modes of deployment. Here we studied whether the herbivore-induced accumulation of JA, JA-Ile and ET changed over ontogeny in Nicotiana attenuata, a native tobacco in which inducible defenses are particularly well studied. Herbivore-elicited ET production changed dramatically during six developmental stages, from rosette through flowering, decreasing with the elongation of the first corollas during flower development. This decrease was largely recovered within a day after flower removal by decapitation. A similar pattern was found for the herbivore-induced accumulation of JA and JA-Ile. These results are consistent with ODT predictions and suggest that the last steps in floral development control the inducibility of at least three plant hormones, optimizing defense-growth tradeoffs.

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